‘It’s that Kentucky thing.’ Big Blue Madness Campout brings UK basketball fans together


Carter Skaggs

Campers rush to throw down their tents and blankets to claim a space on the lawn of Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs | Staff

Laurel Swanz, Reporter

The lawn surrounding Memorial Coliseum transformed into a sea of tents and UK-blue T-shirts last weekend at the Big Blue Madness Campout, returning for the first time since 2019 due to COVID.

Over 300 fans of all ages camped out for more than 24 hours in hopes of scoring free tickets to Big Blue Madness (BBM), UK basketball’s season kickoff event. BBM is a mens and womens basketball open practice, consisting of player introductions, practice drills, scrimmages and more.

Campers were able to interact with players and coaches, go to a watch party for the UK-Ole Miss football game, attend the UK-Alabama volleyball game, eat pizza, engage in a friendly cornhole competition and connect with other members of the Big Blue Nation, free of cost.

“It’s about a tradition, family, … meeting people that share a common interest,” UK fan Kevin Pieper said.

Despite tickets not being available until 9 Sunday morning, Pieper was among the first to arrive at 11 a.m on Friday, Sept. 30, accompanied by his pet rabbit, Chapo.

Pieper and Chapo sat in lawn chairs along Avenue of Champions until the next morning at 5, when the campout officially began.

Pieper said Chapo tagged along to bring good luck, calling him a “lucky rabbit.”

UK fan Anthony Bourland also brought along someone special to him: his son. Bourland has been coming to the BBM Campout since 2008. His son would accompany him when he was little, but they have missed the experience the past few years.

Bourland said his son was born into being a UK basketball fan, he and loved watching him experience the campout.

“The fact that my son and cousin got to get pictures and meet (John Calipari) and everything … was the lightup of my day because I like to bring other people to see their excitement,” Bourland said.

Bourland also explained that in so many years of coming to the Campout, he made friends he now talks to “once a week.”

Talking about a friend he made at the Campout, Bourland said, “Me and him came from totally different backgrounds, but we totally clicked. It’s that Kentucky thing.”

Bourland was thrilled to bring his son back and see his friends again after three years. He called the BBM Campout “a top notch vacation” and reminisced on the past three canceled events.

“I haven’t been able to go to that spot that I go to every year, and that’s one of my favorite spots to go because it’s nothing but love,” Bourland said. “Nobody angry or nothing, just people helping each other. This got shut down for a couple years and it’s almost heartbreaking.”

For some, the BBM Campout was not a continued tradition but a first time experience. Andrew Jones and Debbie Bruhn traveled from Flemingsburg, Kentucky, to get a taste of the excitement.

Bruhn said she came to try something new. She succeeded in her mission and credited the day with “a lot of firsts.” Bruhn got to attend her first ever volleyball game, and neither she nor Jones had been inside Memorial Coliseum before the Campout.

Jones attended the Campout in anticipation of another year of success.

“I’ve kinda invested in this team, I really believe in them, and I wanna be a part of it,” he said.

The BBM Campout also attracted students, serving as a last hurrah for UK seniors Joey Hurley, Benjamin Brown, Nicholas Lucy and Lucas Labrillazo. Best friends since freshman year, Hurley, Brown, Lucy and Labrillazo do everything together. So this year, they decided to pitch a tent at the BBM campout.

“We had heard about the event before but didn’t get to go our freshman, sophomore or junior year, so it’s kinda like our last chance to do it,” Hurley said.“We figured we would check it out, see what it’s like.”

Although spending a weekend camping for tickets to an event might sound outlandish to some, it is well worth it to the fans who attend the BBM Campout. Bourland didn’t mind the loss of sleep.

“I get my eight hours, maybe nine, every night, and I ain’t been asleep. And so for me, right now it’s like I’m running on just being here,” Bourland said. “This place is keeping me awake right now. And the people around me, I just love them. I just love the whole atmosphere.”